PAT EATON-ROBB, Associated Press
STORRS, Conn. (AP) — The partying started Monday night on the UConn campus and spilled into Tuesday. And rightly so.
It was in honor of the women’s basketball team, which beat Notre Dame 79-58 in Nashville, Tenn., on Tuesday, capturing a record ninth national title, and the men’s team, which beat Kentucky 60-54 in Arlington, Texas, about 23 hours earlier, capturing its fourth NCAA title.
“It was pretty crazy last night,” 20-year-old Harrison Holzschlag said Tuesday night. “It’s going to be pretty crazy tonight as well.”
Early reports from the campus police showed students mostly behaving after the Tuesday night victory, with just two arrests before midnight, basically for being rowdy. Monday’s crowd wasn’t as tame, with police arresting 36 people, mostly for alcohol-related offenses and minor vandalism. At one point, someone set off a firework over the crowd.
But with twin national titles in the same year, fans were going to find ways to celebrate. UConn, which won both titles a decade ago, is the only Division I school that has accomplished that feat.
“It’s just such a big deal,” said sophomore Alexander Potts, who watched both games on the mega screens in Gampel Pavilion on the Storrs campus. “We love basketball here, it’s our No. 1 sport, and nobody is better at it.”
Included in the thousands of fans watching the game at Gampel on Tuesday night was DeAndre Daniels from the men’s team. He jumped into the middle of the crowd at center court during the final few minutes of the women’s win, bouncing up and down and cheering.
Guard Ryan Boatright stayed on the periphery; his left foot in a boot after rolling an ankle during the Kentucky game.
“It’s history being made,” Boatright said. “It’s only happened one other time and that was in ’04, and I’m just glad to be a part of this.”
Before the game Tuesday, about 7,500 fans came to the arena for a rally to welcome home Husky men. A smaller crowd, but still in the thousands, stayed to watch the women improve the school’s record to 13-0 in national championship games.
After the final buzzer, the fans poured out of the arena and began their second night of partying.
The women’s team planned to return to Storrs on Wednesday and take a victory lap in an open-air, double-decker bus with the pep band and cheerleaders, and finish with speeches at the Fairfield Way Plaza.
The women, who won 46 straight games, were expected to capture the title. Men’s coach Kevin Ollie had promised the fans last month that his team also would be back to hang a banner in the arena.
He made good on that promise Tuesday.
“On senior night I told you all to save this date, didn’t I?” Ollie told the crowd at the welcome-home rally. “The only reason I said that is because I knew what kind of team I had, what kind of coaching staff I had and I knew I had the greatest fans in America behind us.”
The men’s title comes a year after the team was banned from the NCAA tournament for failing to meet academic requirements, and after the school was left out of the expansion plans of both the ACC and Big Ten conferences.
“I think it’s an incredible thing from being down and out of the tournament to where we are now,” said 23-year-old Matt Thomson, a 2013 graduate. “I think it shows the real passion of the players, the fans and this entire school. No one lost hope. We all believed that we were still UConn.”
Fans at the rally cheered loudly as each player was introduced; saving their loudest ovation for senior star Shabazz Napier.
Napier’s mother, Carmen Velasquez, was on hand, helping to unveil a plaque that put his name alongside other former UConn greats such as Ray Allen, Emeka Okafor and Kemba Walker on the Huskies of Honor wall high atop the arena.
“Hey mom, be careful up there, I love you,” Napier said. “Wow, I never thought I would be in the Huskies of Honor. I never thought my jersey would be retired in college. Wow.”
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